Carl Jung has captured the interest of both academics and spiritual seekers alike. One of his most powerful discoveries was his concept of “The Shadow.”
Carl Jung’s “Shadow,” is a symbol that represents the hidden side of every human psyche. The Shadow is composed of hidden aspects of an individual’s personality that are deemed as “unacceptable,” and tucked away into the hidden parts of their mind.
Shadow characteristics are mostly formed by shame. These characteristics are thoughts, desires, wishes, feelings, cravings and urges that one’s own ego does not accept. For example, in the case of sexual taboo, you may have heard that certain behaviors or desires are not acceptable by your family, so you hide them- thus, the urge is cast into the shadow- only to show itself when the environment is safe from judgement, or even repressed away completely.
Shadow traits can also be positive aspects of a personality. Maybe you have associated your natural assertiveness with shame, because you were disciplined away from it at a young age. Or maybe your creativity was neglected because you were taught that it less valuable than “hard skills.” This is why Shadow Integration is such an important tool for making progress in the process of Individuation– a term coined by Carl Jung which represents the journey a mind must undergo to achieve wholeness.
This article will cover a few aspects of the Shadow. These topics include Neurosis of the Shadow, Individuation and Making Peace with the Shadow.
Neurosis of the Shadow
“If we understand anything of the unconscious, we know that it cannot be swallowed. We also know that it is dangerous to suppress it, because the unconscious is life and this life turns against us if suppressed, as happens in neurosis.”Carl Jung
Carl Jung discovered that the Shadow can provide great insight and revelation. He also knew that it can do a lot of damage to one’s psyche if not integrated. Repression, or failure to embrace the Shadow is a recipe for psychological trouble. The Shadow cannot be destroyed, and even if it is repressed into the darkness, its tentacles will still surface. Below, are a few examples of what these tentacles may look like to an observer.
Psychological Projection is the projection of one’s own shadow traits upon someone else, or even a group of people. Psychological Projection serves as a defense mechanism which temporarily alleviates someone from the pains of facing their own shadow. Projections may even occur unconsciously and unintentionally.
Psychological Projection can be considered a neurosis, because if gone unchecked, it can decrease one’s quality of life. Those who constantly project their shadow upon others, will often drive those people away unintentionally and end up wondering why they are lonely.
Over Identification with Persona
Over identification with the Persona is a trait of a non-integrated shadow. Individuals with this sort of shadow repression can appear superficial or lacking in depth. This is because they are only presenting a small portion of their personality to the world.
Over Identification with the Persona may be seen in someone who only discusses certain topics, such as work, at more intimate social gatherings, or with family. This person may also exhibit a more than typical amount of pride for their own achievements. Many of these over-expressions are due to insecurity, which is another symptom of a non-integrated Shadow.
Lack of emotional Intimacy
Individuals with non-integrated shadows can appear guarded, especially in friendships and romantic relationships. For the partner, it may seem that it is nearly impossible to get past a certain level in knowing them. It begins to appear that the relationship is lacking depth, and may begin to dissolve the bond.
A great modern example of this, is the case in the TV Show, Dexter. Dexter is a serial killer who attempts to maintain the appearance of a normal life. Dexter has a lot of trouble with intimate relationships, because he is unable to share his Shadow side (the murderer) with even his closest partners. This repression and hiding of the shadow causes a lot of internal stress for Dexter, and often leads to the dissolution of relationships.
In some cases, a repressed shadow may force itself out from someone, and take control of their personality for periods of time. In the extreme cases this can cause anti-social behavior such as considerations to do harm or violence.
In less extreme cases, Shadow traits may come out as rudeness or ill-intent. Have you ever been around someone who rubs you wrong, even though you haven’t done anything to them? They may be Shadow possessed, and giving off bad energy because of their own discomfort. If you are able to maintain a psychological distance from them, you can see this behavior for what it is, and decrease its influence upon you.
If one is unable to accept their Shadow, it can lead to low self-esteem. If an individual brands and labels certain parts of themselves as “dirty,” or “embarrassing,” it can lead to a generally negative self-perception. If left untreated, this negative self-perception is capable of enveloping one’s entire psyche. This could produce symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
It is important to alleviate Shadow insecurities by acknowledging and accepting Shadow traits, and working to transform them into positive aspects of our personalities.
How to Make Peace with the Shadow
“The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness.”Carl Jung
Carl Jung realized that mental-balance cannot exist without a direct confrontation with the Shadow. This confrontation requires an individual to explore and acknowledge every aspect of their Shadow, no matter how grotesque it may be.
The act of simply acknowledging shadow traits, and accepting them into reality, will bring more balance to the mental landscape. It is even possible to channel these shadow energies into positive energy, or bring them fully into the light where they belong. This process of internal work, can lead to a tremendous increase in success and inner-satisfaction. It is not easy to undergo the process of Shadow Integration, though the fruits are worth the challenge.
Carl Jung’s Shadow Work
Shadow work is the practice of facing one’s own unconscious through the practice of introspection. This can be done with the help of Psychoanalysis, or through more individual efforts such as meditation. Carl Jung practiced his own Psychoanalytic techniques with his patients. Jung also suggested that there are many ways for one to access their own shadow by themselves. Shadow work is a unique process for every individual.
There are four basic steps in Jungian Shadow Work
- Accept the truth that our shadow traits cannot be repressed out of existence.
- Introspect and accept the root of each shadow trait.
- Work to bring aspects of shadow traits into the light.
- Allow shadow traits to express themselves in healthy ways.
The Unconscious mind can be accessed in a variety of ways, from traditional meditation, to more experimental forms such as psychedelics. Any confrontation with the unconscious is beneficial, even the scarier experiences. Dreams are also another great way of accessing the unconscious, you can read this article to learn more about dream work.
Another highly effective method of Shadow Work is active-introspection. Active-introspection allows you to speak with and gain knowledge from the characters that compose your mind.
If you are interested in learning more about this method of Shadow Work, you can purchase the book called Inner Work. This book will provide you with a great set of tools for your journey inward. This book serves as a guide which shows you how to make meaningful contact with your unconscious, how to sort through these encounters, and how to turn them into beneficial energies and personality traits.
“Individuation is a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness (e.g., by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche… Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.”Carl Jung
In Carl Jung’s concept of Individuation, one must fully confront and accept their shadow self. Jung compares this journey to the fable of a hero who must confront a dragon to get to the “treasure that is hardest to obtain.” The one who is able to recognize and explore all aspects of their shadow self, while still remaining civilized, is the one who gains the treasure. The fruits of this journey can be more confidence, more depth in personality, more empathy, more peak experiences and increased capacity for emotional intimacy. To learn more about the process of Individuation, read this article.
Shadow traits are not all bad, and are often beneficial to an individual and even their community. Leaders, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and artists may reach new levels of success by making progress in their process of Individuation. Often, a tremendous amount of beauty in one’s personality exists in the Shadow, and only needs to be brought into the light to express itself.
It is liberating to accept yourself as a whole, and the mental-peace of doing so cannot help but to radiate outward. This is the importance of having a basic understanding of Carl Jung’s concept of the Shadow.
“Until you make the Unconscious Conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”Carl Jung
Jung, C.G. Psychological Types. Collected Works, vol. 6, par. 757.
Jung, C.G. (1962). Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia (vol. 2). New York:d
Jung, C.G. (Shamdasani, S). (2009). The Red Book, p. 208, par. 3. Verona, Italy: Mondadori Printing.
11 thoughts on “Carl Jung and the Shadow: a Guide to the Dark Side of the Mind”
Very helpful , thank you
Thank you for your article. I am actually trying to understand this concept and i have a pointthat i’m not sure to understand.
I understand that i have to accept myself entirely.
But what about those hard moments where you want to eat junk food that cause cancer, smoke a cigaret, drink alcohol, take drugs, want to have sex with someone else when you are in couple, hang out on social media instead of working on something more important, beat someone ?
Should i accept those envies and go fully with it ( doing the action) ?
how to accept my drive without doing something that will harm me ?
I thank you in advance for your answer.
Hi Thomas, great question! I believe Jung’s idea here is to harness the energy of the shadow, and use it for good, rather than acting on the exact impulse (drink alcohol, take drugs, sex outside of marriage, etc). It would be destructive to act on those impulses exactly how they appear in the conscious mind, however their energy can be harnessed and translate into good.
Maybe an example of this is taking the impulse to cheat (newness of a new sexual partner), and transferring that energy or newness onto your wife.
I haven’t seen any concrete examples but I tried my version of identifying and embracing my shadow.
– Anxiety about achieving my full potential in the future
– I can let this drive me forward and work harder to improve as a person and take better
care of myself.
– Desire for independence
– I can let this drive me forward and work harder towards my career goals. I am still
worthy if I accept the help of others. Other people may even benefit from helping me.
– Fear of not being wanted or appreciated
– I should work on being grateful for myself and acknowledging my own positive traits.
– Frustration around being misunderstood
– I am learning to be secure in the fact that I know exactly who I am and I will attract
and hold on to only the right people who see me and accept me accordingly. I can
accept that not everyone will get me or like me. We are all flawed and I am doing the
best I can. Imperfections can be lovable and are part of my nuanced and fascinating
– Shame over accepting or being drawn to people who don’t treat me well.
– I will treat myself like a queen and will not tolerate disrespect from anyone.